Saturday, December 09, 2006

Getting Kids What They Need

One of the ways parents fill in the gaps of a "less than expected" education for their children is to find outside activities, lessons, trips, and recreational pursuits to take up the time that might have been spent on learning in school. If school is too easy, homework is scarce and time spent at home ends up being spent in front of a television or computer screen.

There are many ways you can enrich your child's education, even in front of a computer screen. Of course you can choose from the plethora of education related computer programs, but why not do something for free instead? offers resources for teachers, parents, and kids to investigate more fully the world of literature. Popular children's books and novels published by Scholastic now includes online teaching guides for the use of classroom teachers, homeschool parents, and other interested parents.

A recent addition to this rich list of literary resources is the activities and online teaching guide to Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I had the privilege to create this guide for Scholastic. Inkheart is the first book in a trilogy about a book binder and his daughter as they interact with worlds and characters created by writers as they spill into their real life. See the book review of Inkheart for more information on this great title for grades 4-8.

Parents and teachers are always on the hunt for ways to meet the needs of kids in their care. As you evaluate the myriad of resources out there, make sure they point your child to where you want them to go.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Caring" is Caught, Not Just Taught

As reported on

Kohl's Offers Classic Dr. Seuss Stories to Benefit Children's Health and Education

Just in time for the holidays, Kohl's Department Stores is bringing classic stories to customers nationwide. Kohl's is excited to offer exclusive collector's editions of the following Dr. Seuss books: The Sneetches; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; Green Eggs and Ham; and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Kohl's is also offering the corresponding stuffed animals.

As part of its Kohl's Cares for Kids program, Kohl's stores across the country will feature the exclusive items for $5 each with 100 percent of the net profits benefiting children's health and educational opportunities in Kohl's communities nationwide. The items will also be available online at

In addition to supporting children's health and educational opportunities, the Kohl's Cares for Kids program features a gift card fundraising opportunity for local schools and nonprofit youth groups; the Kohl's Kids Who Care scholarship program, which recognizes kids who contribute through volunteerism to their local communities; and the associate volunteer program, which encourages volunteerism to benefit local youth-focused nonprofit organizations. For more information on these programs, visit
This report encourages volunteerism, a character trait we all appreciate and value. Sometimes it seems that cooperations do a better job instilling that value than we do as parents. I'm glad that Kohl's has this program, but I encourage individual families to look at this time of the year for ways that they can volunteer in their own communities. Maybe you can participate in a toys for tots drive, or somehow serve the homeless children in your community. Maybe you can make donations in your family's name instead of giving gifts. If children are going to learn to stand up for the needs of others, they have to learn by watching how we do it.

How can you show you care for kids this holiday season?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Shot in the Arm

Childhood vaccines have been a touchy subject with many parents for decades. Some even refuse what that AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) tout as necessary for public safety. Why? There are those who refuse due to their religious beliefs, but for many the issue is more complicated.

The HPV vaccine is the newest to cause an uproar amongst parents. It has been determined that the Human Papillomavirus Virus, a sexually transmitted disease, may cause cervical cancer. In June the Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine designed to protect against cervical cancer. Parents must now decide whether to vaccinate their adolescent daughters against the STD.

If you are a parent of an adolescent girl, or will be in the near future, you will have to decide whether or not to immunize her against this STD that can potentially cause cervical cancer. Religious conservatives have voiced the loudest concern at this recent health initiative. The fear is that is will undermine their own message of abstinence to their daughters. I think it is much more complicated than that, but every parent should have the power to make the decision for their own child.

One of the first steps of advocacy is to be informed. Do your homework! Make sure you educate yourself to all sides of this issue so that you can speak with an educated voice for or against this practice for the sake of your daughter(s).

National Politics & Policy FDA Announces Approval of HPV Vaccine Gardasil
Vaccinate Before You Graduate
Press Release from the FDA
Do Religious Conservatives Really Oppose the HPV Vaccine? (great blog post)

Media Coverage
Several broadcast programs reported on the FDA approval of the HPV vaccine:

CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Ursula Matulonis, a physician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and a U.S. woman diagnosed with cervical cancer (Kenniff, "Evening News," CBS, 6/8). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.

NBC's "Nightly News": Robert Bazell, science correspondent for NBC, discusses the costs and benefits of the vaccine (Bazell, "Nightly News," NBC, 6/8). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.

Let us know your thoughts on mandatory vaccines or specifically the HPV vaccine.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

State Pre-K Program Under Fire

Florida has been at the forefront of education issues like school choice, vouchers, and state standardized testing - its entry into the realm of Universal Pre-K not withstanding. However, this latest educational trend is under fire. In an attempt to rush to the table, Florida has not done their homework. They are not prepared to provide neither full nor part time Pre-K to the 100,000 families who want the program. They're trying to "do pre-K on the cheap," said Abby Thorman, advisor to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. "Because of both the low per-child funding and the real absence of standards for high quality, Florida became the model of exactly what we didn't want to do."

They say you get what you pay for. This is true for education as well. Quality, certified early education teachers don't just grow on trees, and they are in great demand. So instead of waiting to find those quality teachers, Florida is moving ahead with lower standards.

According to a St. Petersburg Times interview by Jeffrey S. Solocheck, Gladys Wilson, who oversees the state pre-K program, said "there's no proof that a teacher needs a college degree to be effective." Although I agree with this in principle, the greater question is why we're pursuing universal pre-K at all.

If we push for certified pre-K teachers, what does that say about the ability of parents to educate and raise their own preschool age children? The issue isn't really whether or not Florida is a good model to follow, it's whether we should be going down this road at all.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Before They're Even Born

It began in the very beginning. I had to decide whether or not to have an amniocentesis after losing our first child to an unusual genetic disorder. During the 16th week of both of my subsequent pregnancies, in 1989 and 1991 respectively, I chose to undergo a procedure that included the penetration of a terrifyingly long needle into my abdomen in search of vital amniotic fluid that would then be tested to see if this baby, like the first, had Turner’s Syndrome. I was classified as high risk and so the doctor insisted on this test as a diagnostic tool. Not that it mattered. We decided well before the procedure that even if the results revealed that this child too had T.S., we would see this pregnancy through to term, God willing.

After this probing, almost alien-like, procedure we were referred to a genetic counselor (another consequence of our previous pregnancy’s outcome). Pam sat facing us and extended her right hand to me and her left to my husband. “I’m your bridge,” she said. “We have a lot to talk about, but first things first.”

I sat on the edge of the hard plastic break room chair almost to tipping and breathed a sign of relief. Finally, someone who could understand the agony Chip and I had already been through. Someone we didn’t have to explain and explain again the depth of our pain and confusion at the loss of our first child, our daughter Emily. We had someone who would stand up for our choice even against doctors who proposed something else. We didn’t have that before. We were alone. The pressure we felt from well meaning doctors made us feel weighed down and rain soaked by their expert opinions. This time, if there were a problem, we had someone to stand firm with us on our values and desires.

Pam had seen it all and worked with countless other parents who struggled with genetic uncertainties. She could speak the language of the medical community and translate when necessary. Chip squeezed my other hand and smiled at me with his own sense of relief. We were going to be okay.

“Before I can advocate for you as parents, I need to make sure I understand your wishes,” Pam began. “This time, if the fetus presents with the same chromosomal defect, would you prefer to terminate instead of waiting for the inevitable death in utero? There’s no reason to put yourself through that pain again.”

There it was. The choice. A choice about our yet unborn child. Any relief I had dissipated like cheap air freshener. She was really one of them. Pam said that she was there to advocate for our wishes, but she’d made assumptions about what those wishes were. Termination was not a choice in our minds, and so it seemed that we were alone yet again to stand up for our child.

Thus begins my new book entitled Standing Up for Your Child (without stepping on toes) to be published by Focus on the Family/Tyndale Publishers in July 2007.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Parents - Student Union Reps

He got up while it was still dark, shoveled some breakfast into his weary body and finally headed out the door to start another day. The morning carpool was late again, so he waited in the driveway, hands in pockets and eyes closed. The prospect of the day ahead made his head hurt. Monotony, frustration and the unavoidable argument with his partner were all he had to look forward to. Finally his ride skidded into the driveway and he barely shut the car door before it sped away.

He looked out the back window in time to see his mother waving goodbye.

In many ways a child’s school day is no different than their parents’ work day. Some waddle into the school with apprehension and angst, while others hurry to their seats with expectancy and excitement. You can tell by the eyes. Deer caught in headlights or wisdom of the ages owl eyes. Look in the mirror – what do your eyes tell the rest of the world about your job?

The day inches forward and they watch the clock. By 11:00 a.m. stomachs growl and eyes begin to glaze over. Some kids look for any excuse to get up and move around. Pencils could use sharpening. Water fountains entice (even if the water is warm and smells a little weird). Restroom passes are highly coveted, but as a last resort any kid will volunteer to run an errand for the teacher – anything to get up and get going.

Who can blame them? There’s very little wiggle room in a classroom. Squirming can be construed as a symptom of ADHD, and getting up out of your seat without permission is a punishable offense. Outside time either in the form of physical education or recess has been cut dramatically. In fact, 40 percent of the nation’s elementary schools have either dropped or reduced recess in favor of extra classroom time.

Prisoners and even caged dogs at the Humane Society get more breaks than kids in school!

Those who oppose down time at school argue that the more time kids spend in their seats in the classroom, the more they will learn. In this age of school reform and shrinking budgets, some school districts have made some controversial choices. Boston’s superintendent, Nadine Binkley, defends her cut of recess, “I’ve been at this job for a year, and I was hired with a mandate to improve academic achievement. Research tells us this is the way to increase student achievement.”

But early childhood development research disagrees. Olga Jarrett, child development specialist at Georgia State University, says, “A teacher who conducts an entire day without one short recess misunderstands how children learn.”

So it’s a misunderstanding?

Let’s see.

Children have shorter attention spans than adults and yet they get less breaks during the day than adults do in the workplace. Maybe they need their own union.

Public health officials warn that youngsters are too sedentary, but we’ve slashed the physical education programs’ budgets. Many adults are dangerously overweight, so risk management directors create wellness programs to include exercise while on the job. Sure. . . that makes perfect sense.

One might argue that children are in school to learn, not play. So does that mean that adults are at their jobs to work, not play? Can you imagine taking your lunch break at work and someone unseen turns off the lights and yells at you with a bullhorn to put your head down and keep quiet? That happens in schools every day.

No matter whether it’s a misunderstanding or just poor decision making, we all need at least scheduled breaks, physical activity and unstructured play time in order to be productive.

Rebecca Lamphere, a Virginia Beach mom, said it best, “We aren’t raising computers. These are living, breathing bodies.”

Bodies and minds are meant to be in motion. We can advocate for our children’s wellness in school. After all, we’re the only union rep they’ve got!

Copyright 2005 Vicki Caruana. All Rights Reserved.